The Photobook Advent Calendar – Dec 8th

This year, in the true spirit of Christmas, we’re doing the Miniclick Photobook Advent Calendar where we’ll look at a different photobook, newspaper, magazine or ‘zine we like by someone we’ve worked with in the last 12 months, right up until Christmas Day. To view the Advent Calendar picks so far, click here.

Day 8 – December 8th

Lisa Barnard – Chateau Despair

We always planned to feature Lisa Barnard’s Chateau Despair in the Advent Calendar, but hadn’t planned to so soon, since we featured another GOST publication on Wednesday in Ewen Spencer’s UKG. Then GOST dropped us a line to say that they’re offering free postage until 10pm tonight, so we thought we’d bring things forward a bit. Lisa was part of our panel discussion back in April we put on to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Brighton University’s Photography Course.


32 Smith Square was Conservative Central Office from 1958 to 2004.The building is synonymous with Margaret Thatcher smiling and waving out of the window on the 2nd floor after winning the elections of 1979, 1983 and 1987. However, by 2004 the building became known as ‘Chateau Despair’ to its inhabitants, prior to the Conservatives’ move to Victoria Street. They left behind a mausoleum containing nearly 50 years of their political history, etched on its surfaces and discarded in its corners.

This book features previously unseen photographs of the interior documenting the dulled shades of corporate blue, stained carpets, peeling paintwork and discarded iconography of past alliances. Carefully choreographed portraits of a smiling Thatcher, unearthed in an old cupboard, punctuate the book, jarring with the shabby interior. The book also includes photographs of the objects, or remnants, Barnard found in the building including a blue rosette, an internal envelope, an ornate silver spoon, a balloon and a strip of film negative.”

For almost 50 years, 32 Smith’s Square was home to the Conservative Party and as it was closing down (as the Tories moved to their new home on Victoria St), Lisa photographed the empty building, known as “Chateau Despair” by those who knew it in it’s final years. Lisa’s method of photographing the interiors are spot on – the coldness of the execution matching the omnipresent cold blue and the political Marie Celeste she capturing. What’s amazing is the presence of life, despite the complete absence of people.

It’s fascinating, almost from a voyeuristic point of view, to see what was deemed insignificant enough to leave behind – the volume of objects that were left behind creates an atmosphere that the building was left in a hurry. A pair of shoes, calendars, furniture and Maggie Thatcher’s passport photos (which appear, full bleed, interspersed through the book). Whilst the majority of the images are of the building interiors, space is provided at the back for some still life’s of more objects (rosettes, balloons, campaign badges).

It’s not a book for Thatcher fans, most certainly (which might be one of the reasons we like it so much…), and this is highlighted in great essays from Sarah James and Jeremy Till. Despite only existing for a year, we’ve already come to expect a really high level of attention to detail and well thought out design from GOST. The book is superb, the content perfect and the design built to do it all justice.

Chateau Despair (published by GOST, hardback, 96 pages, limited to 500 copies) costs £25 and is available here. At the time of going to press, GOST are offering free postage on all their books, which includes one we’ve featured in the advent calendar before and at least 2 that we plan to mention before Christmas. Check out their full catalogue here.

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